Residents picked through the rubble of destroyed buildings in central Chile on Thursday after a magnitude 8.3 earthquake killed eight people and sent powerful waves barreling into coastal areas, forcing more than 1 million people from their homes.
Violent aftershocks continued shaking the South American country on Thursday morning and locals said they feared another big quake, although the government lifted its tsunami warning.
“Everything is a mess. It was a disaster, a total loss. Bottles and glasses shattered and the pipes in the bathroom and kitchen burst,” said restaurant owner Melisa Pinones in the city of Illapel, near the epicenter of Wednesday’s quake.
In the coastal town of Los Vilos, residents tried to salvage belongings from dozens of beachfront homes that were destroyed or severely damaged when the strong waves swept in.
The government had ordered evacuations from coastal areas after the powerful quake hit, seeking to avoid a repeat of a quake disaster in 2010 when authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami and hundreds were killed.
The latest quake and the heavy waves that followed caused flooding in coastal towns and knocked out power in the worst hit areas of central Chile, although most buildings held up well. The quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The port of Coquimbo suffered major damage, Interior Minister Jorge Burgos told reporters. Chile’s navy said the city was hit by waves of up to 4.5 meters (15 feet).
President Michelle Bachelet said her government “learned a series of lessons” from previous disasters and that she would travel to the worst affected areas. It was the strongest quake in the world this year and the biggest to hit Chile since 2010.
“We’re going to have go on the ground to see that the damages are and see where help is needed,” Bachelet said.
Chile is the world’s top copper producer and operations were suspended at two big copper mines as a precaution, sending prices on the London Metal Exchange CMCU3 to two-month highs in early Asian trading on concern over disruptions to supplies. Prices later dipped again after reports that were was no damage to mines.
State copper miner Codelco said it was keeping operations at its Andina mine suspended, but it had restarted operations at its Ventanas smelter.
Both Codelco and Antofagasta, which halted operations at its Los Pelambres copper mine, said they were carrying out inspections but they did not have any reports so far of damage. Los Pelambres is the closest major mine to the quake epicenter.
Chile’s state oil company ENAP said its two refineries were running at a minimal rate after staff were evacuated.
Tsunami advisories were issued for parts of South America, Hawaii, California and French Polynesia, although waves were generally expected to be small.
As far away as New Zealand’s remote Chatham Islands, some residents left their homes after reporting repeated ebbing and flowing of the tide, along with ocean noises associated with tide surge around midnight local time. There were no immediate reports of damage or injury.
Dozens of strong aftershocks continued to rattle central Chile, a largely agricultural region south of the mining belt, on Thursday.
In Illapel, a 26-year-old woman was killed by a wall that collapsed when the quake hit. Another person died from a heart attack in Santiago, according to media reports.
Quake-prone Chile has strict building regulations so newer buildings are able to withstand even strong quakes. Many homes in Illapel and surrounding areas are simple, adobe houses and are more prone to damage.
The brunt of the damage was borne by coastal areas such as Coquimbo where houses and fishing boats were smashed by waves.
“We’re going through a really grave situation with the tsunami. We have residential neighborhoods that have flooded. The ocean has reached the downtown area,” said Coquimbo’s mayor Cristian Galleguillos.
Chile is due to celebrate its national holiday on Friday, but roads were cut off and public transport canceled between Santiago and the north, local media reported.
The quake is the latest natural disaster to roil mining in Chile, which accounts for a third of global copper output. Northern Chile was hit by severe floods earlier this year, while a volcanic eruption caused problems for residents in the south.
Chile runs along a highly seismic and volcanic zone where tectonic plates meet and often experiences earthquakes. In 2014, an 8.2-magnitude quake struck near the northern city of Iquique. In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in central-southern Chile triggered a massive tsunami, and more than 500 people were killed.
In the hours after that quake, President Bachelet and her government misjudged the extent of damage and declined offers of international aid. That delayed the flow of assistance to disaster areas, leaving many survivors feeling they had been abandoned by the government.
Bachelet’s government was also slow to prevent looting following the quake. Its failings hit her high approval ratings at the end of her presidential term, although she remained popular and was elected again in 2013. Reuters